Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Eastern Great Lakes Hang Trip Report - Fall 2012 - Grey Skies and Chowder

Eastern Great Lakes Hang Trip Report - Fall 2012 - Grey Skies and Chowder

Maybe it's a Canadian thing, but hammocks and canoeing seem to go together like fine wine and cheese, like scotch and wood smoke or like bacon and, well, pretty much anything. Time the paddle to coincide with some spectacular autumn colours and throw in the last weekend of trout season and you've got the makings of a memorable hang deep in our own piney woods, Algonquin Park, Ontario.

After a month of planning on Hammock Forums, all the main details of the trip had been hammered out and the reservations had been made. In the end, twelve of us would be pushing off the docks in a fleet consisting of two solo canoes paddled by Mongrel and Ryvr and five double canoes paddled by Brantwing & Dant8ro, Kasuko & Chenvre, Hankster & Jiblets, Jayson & Cedar and finally Bubba & myself.

The route we settled on was one I had paddled several times over the years, both solo and with a partner. The first pair of lakes, Magnetewan and Hambone were relatively small, with short portages, just what the doctor ordered to warm up the muscles before the long paddle down the length of Ralph Bice Lake. From there we'd portage over another easy trail into Little Trout Lake where we'd set up camp for the weekend. Come Sunday morning, we'd retrace our route on the way back to Magnetewan Lake, the cars and home. Although I'd passed through Little Trout before, this would the first time I'd be staying the night and I was looking forward to it. All in all, it was going to be a nice short trip in and out of the Park at a beautiful time of year.

Our goal of being on the water by about 9:30 am meant that we'd want to be at the Kearney Park Office when it opened at 8 am. Knowing that it can be a little tricky to find, we thought it best to meet at the Tim Hortons coffee shop half an hour south near the junction of the two main routes our group would be arriving on, Highway 11 from Toronto and all points south and Highway 60 from Ottawa in the east. We agreed on a 7:00 - 7:30 am rendezvous, meaning that most of us had been on the road since at least two or three in the morning, in some cases earlier than that.

At 3 am Jiblets and I left Toronto on our way to Huntsville by way of Orangeville where I stored my canoe. Arriving at the Tims around 6:40, I was pleased to see the familiar face of Ryvr sitting inside, sipping a coffee. He had shown up an hour earlier after picking up a demo Shearwater solo canoe from Swift Canoes who had generously allowed him take it out on a test run. As usual, and despite his normally very shy and reserved personality, Ryvr had us laughing in no time as he recounted how he had been snoozing in the parking lot a little earlier and had been rocked awake by a sudden bang on his car. Thinking he had been hit by another vehicle, Ryvr jumped out of his car only to find some poor sap lying on the ground after having walked straight into the end of Ryvr's canoe. How he managed to not notice a 16' white canoe is beyond me, but no matter how you slice it, that's a hilariously brutal way to start your day!

Gradually the one coffee table expanded to two and then three as more of the group began to arrive. With each new arrival introductions went around and new faces were greeted as warmly as the old familiar ones. We were even lucky enough to have three guys, Chenvre, Cedar and Hankster joining us on their first hang. Cedar’s story was best. Eager to go on a hang but not relishing the idea of the long drive down to one of the US hangs, Cedar flipped to the trip planning forum and our EGL thread was at the top of the list. Talk about good timing.

The hot coffee was a comfort because most of us had managed only a couple of hours of sleep at best. We were staggered around Tim's like a group of sleep deprived zombies. That is, of course, with one notable exception. Cedar lives no more than thirty minutes away and had happily slept the night away until 6:30 am. Let me tell you, seeing his smiling face and the energetic, well-rested bounce in his step was enough to earn Cedar a big, fat, black mark in my book. Not a good Cedar, not good at all.

At around 8 am the last three guys rolled in, bringing our headcount up to ten. The last two, Dant8ro and Brantwing, had long since driven past Huntsville on their way further north to pick up their brand new Swift Kipiwa, and would be meeting us in Kearney. We all saddled up and took to the highway again. Jiblets and I even stopped for a container of worms on the way.

Within half an hour the everyone was parked outside of the Kearney Park Office. It was really good to see the father and son team, but to be honest, it was nicer to see that pretty, and as of yet unscratched "Kip" riding atop their car. Sorry guys. Inside the Park office was a different story. There was already a line up ahead of us and is seemed that the group of paddlers in front of us were also planning on spending the weekend on Little Trout. Only two weeks before Little Trout had only been half empty. Now all of the lakes were full and it seemed likely that we might have to race for good sites.

Once we had all registered, we saddled up again and double back out to the main road in a long convoy around Sand lake along twisting dirt roads down to our access point at Magnetewan Lake. The first time I traveled that route was for a solo canoe trip back in the fall of 1999. About halfway along the 30+ km route, the road had gradually turned from a paved road to a dirt road and then to little more that a leaf covered wagon track winding its way through the forest. In places I crawled my Honda Civic hatchback at no more than a walking pace and I was regularly bottoming out on the rocks sticking out of the uneven trail. What should have been a 30-40 minute drive took me several hours to accomplish, but it was worth it. The colours were spectacular and the rough road made me feel like I was the first person back that way in years. After the trip I called up my regular canoeing buddies and went on about how great the trail was and we immediately made plans to go back the next year. When the next season came we pulled out of Kearney and drove down the same road and made the same turns, but to my horror I discovered that the Government had graded my beloved trail and opened a ten foot wide dirt road all the way back to the Access Point. I was crushed, but at the same time I also felt privileged for having had a chance to see the last of that great little road.

Anyway, Algonquin's Access Point # 3 is little more than three gravel parking lots carved out of the forest and a short trail way down to the water where a small wooden dock runs out into the clear blue waters of Magnetewan Lake. In the carpark we found a few other canoers, including the party who had registered ahead of us, getting ready to head out. We quickly unloaded that vehicles, carried our gear to the water, parked the cars and pushed off on another new adventure.

My paddling partner for the trip was Bubba, a easy going chap from London, Ontario. We'd met a couple of years earlier at the Valens Conservation Area near Hamilton, on my second hang. It just so happens that I met quite a few of the guys who would go on to form the EGL. It was there that the idea of the canoeing hangs was born. Anyways, Bubba's a good guy and I looked forward to paddling with him.

Magnetewan Lake’s not very large, but it's oddly shaped and has a number of bays. Fortunately the portage we were aiming for was no more that a few hundred metres away on the opposite shore. Deceptively close as it would later prove to be.

If you haven't been canoe camping for a while, the first portage is always the most awkward. Gear hasn't yet found it's rightful place and it takes a little extra time to get everything straightened out. Fortunately, as I've already mentioned, both the first (135m) and second (295m) portages were quite easy.

We had a little excitement as we began to head out across Hambone Lake. As I set down my canoe to watch the rest of the group launch, one canoe was just pushing off. I only turned away for a second and the next thing I knew, there was a shout and a large splash. Looking back I saw both Chenvre and Kasuko struggling to stand up in waist deep water, completely soaked from head to foot. They quickly grabbed their packs and held them above their heads as they brought them to the beach. Emptying the canoe of water, they reloaded it and were off again. Only this time Chenvre sat directly on the floor of the canoe and that probably made all of the difference. I've seen an old film of a Cree paddling his canoe and that was the way he sat, so there you go. From what I could tell, they had no major problems for the rest of the weekend and I was very surprised to see how fast they moved.

Two fair sized guys unfamiliar with either the canoe or each other; it's easy to see how they could have flipped. I've been paddling for years and still find balancing a little tricky when going double. It's something you have to get used to and each paddling partner is different. Luckily for us all that it happened only a few metres off shore, where the price of the lesson is only wet clothes, a damp sweater and maybe a little embarrassment. The seasoned paddlers in the group knew, without saying, how close we came to a real disaster. Our next lake would be Ralph Bice and it was a large one, and a mid-lake flip is a canoer’s worst nightmare.

Ralph Bice Lake is one of the larger and more beautiful lakes in Western Algonquin. Long and wide, it's southern shoreline rises quickly into a series of tall rounded headlands. The north shore, though less rugged, is no less scenic and was ablaze in fall colours. When I first paddled this lake, it was known as Butt Lake, presumably named after the Butt Township in which it resides, but it's name was changed to honour the "Grand Old Man of Algonquin", local trapper, author and Order of Canada Winner, Ralph Bice.

Luckily for us crossing the lake was eventless. Sunny, partly cloudy skies and a light tailwind made for easy and unremarkable passage. Ryvr, trying out the Shearwater for the first time was pleasantly surprised to find that he was able to keep pace with Hankster and Jiblets throughout the day.

After rounding a large island boasting many nice campsites, Bubba and I passed through a narrow channel into the northeast bay and the last portage of the day. At the end of the Ralph Bice to Little Trout portage, we noticed a lady's plaid scarf lying beneath a tree. Not wanting it to get dirty if it rained, I looped it around a low pine branch in clear view any passersby.

By now, the group had spread out quite a bit and our canoe was in the rear. Not to be put off, Bubba and I officially designated ourselves as the group "anchors" and left it at that. As we pushed off we saw only one canoe ahead just rounding the far end of the southern island. I thought it would be a good idea to swing around the north side of the island and head them off, but as we approached the campsite, we found it empty. Ok, I was a little confused. Looking around we saw to the north, just beyond the second island, a number of canoes being drawn up on shore, and we turned to check them out.

As we passed by the Little Trout's northern-most island I heard a woman's voice, so on a hunch we paddled over saw someone lying out on the rocks. I hailed the shore and another young lady stepped out of the woods. I told her about the scarf and by a stroke of luck it turned out that she was its owner and that she would definitely go back for it. With a wave we turned and paddled over to join what was obviously our group. Getting out of the canoe, I was the last to arrive. It was close to one in the afternoon

Our site was nestled against the north shore and offered good protection against the prevailing northwesterly. The site itself was quite open, with a nice fire pit tucked in the lee of a large outcropping of the Canadian Shield that rose to waist height before it sloped down to the lake. Around the edge of the site were some very large trees giving way to smaller trees in the rear. Fifty metres to the west the forest opened up slightly to a stand of nice evergreens, perfect for a small hammock village. Arriving last, I saw that the site was already busy as all around tarps and hammocks were going up. A couple of guys had already set up on our second site and come back.

Choosing a place to hang is always a challenge. My outfit had been winter tested down to -27C and had ridden through rain storms without shipping a drop, so I wasn’t very concerned with what the weather could throw at me, short of a tornado. I was tired of being sensible and tuucking myself into a little sheltered hollow. What I wanted was a view, so I pitched my tarp on a rise overlooking the lake set it in porch-mode. The result was a fantastic view of the lake that I will not soon forget. One of my trees was rather large and I couldn’t find my spare strap, so I borrowed one from Chenvre, although I returned it a little later after finding my own in my pack.

Once we all had out hammocks figured out, everyone worked their way back to the fire pit to just sit around, chat or grab a bit to eat and drink. Eventually I had walked out on the shield rock and saw a canoe approaching. It turned out that there were two young ladies in it, and steering the canoe was none other than the one I had spoken to earlier about the scarf. “Scarf-gal” said they had found a water bottle on the trail and wanted to come over and ask if it was any of ours. "No," I replied, "not unless it's full of scotch." Laughs all around but I was serious.

They asked if we could spare them some fishing line and a hook so they could try their luck. That wouldn't be a problem, half of us had brought fishing gear. No sooner had they come ashore than Scarf-gal asked if she had really seen a hammock strung up, likely mine since I think it was the only one really visible from the water. She told us how she had recently bought a stock Hennessy and it soon became clear that we had before us a kindred hammocker. Ryvr led her back through the hammock village, her friend patiently in tow, for an impromptu clinic on advanced hammocking, showing off the various types of rigs, tarps, suspension systems, the works. Of particular interest to them were the underquilts. They even took turns trying out a couple of hammocks and were quite impressed.

In the end, it's clear that some greater power smiles upon hammockers, for now Ryvr and Bubba can honestly thank the hammock gods for having a pair of lovely college girls appear out of nowhere and grace their hammocks. Hillbilly angels in the middle of the piney woods, deep in the heart of the Canadian north. Beat that Mahha!!! A little later, Dant8ro turned to Ryvr and said "You're unbelievable! We haven't been at camp more then two hours and you’ve already had two women in your hammock. Boy you don't waste any time do you?"

Anyway, after giving them some line, a few hooks, lead shot and a wooly bugger I tied myself, they waved goodbye and paddled off. Ladies, if you're reading this, please know that your good nature, curiosity and above all bravery warmed all of our hearts.

With the ladies gone, we lounged around camp some more and eventually started to think about dinner and the necessary camp chores. We’d definitely have to do a firewood run, so I grabbed my axe and together with Cedar and Hankster, headed up into the hardwoods behind the site looking for some standing dead timber. I found a couple of pieces but Little Trout is a popular lake, so the nearby forest had been picked clean. I had to go quite a way inland to find what I was looking for. Not in the mood to get lost, I took a quick bearing, sun over my left shoulder at about 8 o’clock, and carried on; a wise habit that anyone traveling in the woods should adopt. When I turned around though, I saw that Cedar and Hankster had turned to bring wood back to camp and that Brantwing and Kasuko had come up. Together we bushwacked a little deeper until we found a couple of nice four inch diameter trees. Meanwhile some guys had gone out in different directions and brought back even more wood.

Back at camp, others were settling in to process it into logs for the night's use by sawing them down to a manageable lengths. I'm not sure, but I believe that I was the only one to have brought an axe. There were a number of saws in camp but they all paled in comparison to Mongrel's Katana Boy saw with its razor sharp 20" blade. Bought mainly for feeding his FourDog titanium woodstove during his winter-camping forays, Mongrel’s an avid winter-trekker, that saw was amazing and was coveted by several of the group.

With the wood taken care of, attention turned to dinner. On the menu was a repeat of our popular goulash. Because the portages into Little Trout were trivial, it wasn't a big deal to bring in some fresh ingredients, notably potatoes, onions and stewing beef. While I peeled potatoes, Ryvr, a trained chef, made short work of dicing and then sautéing the onions, carrots and garlic. When that was ready it was time to brown the several pounds of stewing beef on hand. Once all was ready, the ingredients were transferred into my large lightweight cooking pot and the seasonings were added, including a generous amount of sweet Hungarian paprika. Finally, the pot was set over a low fire to cook under the watchful eye of Ryvr.

Now that dinner was simmering away, it would take a couple of hours to cook. I thought it would be a good time to go out for an evening's paddle and try my luck at some of the lakers and specks that call Little Trout home. I had noticed upwards of five canoes slowly working their way around the lake but nobody seemed to be having any luck. Personally, given the water temperatures, I suspected that the fish would still be quite deep. I had my Eagle Cuda 168 portable fishfinder, more to read depths than to spot individual fish, but the first set of batteries only lasted long enough to tell me that the waters beside our camp sloped down to about twelve feet and then just dropped off to sixty feet. Most of the eastern section of the lake appeared to be a large basin with steep walls and a maximum depth of about 70 - 80 feet. I slow trolled a streamer on a fast sinking fly line along the drop-off before switching to spinning gear and a Cleo trolled slow and low. No luck. I turned back to camp and dinner.

The first thing I did after landing was to try out the goulash. The flavour was bang on, but the meat still needed a little more time to become tender. There’s no rushing cooking, and after a little while everyone was helping themselves to a large bowl of goulash and a chunk of bread. The soup was meant to be a side to everyone's normal dinner, but I miscalculated and the full pot became dinner for several people including myself.

While everyone just nibbling to fill in the corners, out came the cigars and fine spirits. As always, while out in the bush, I like a dram or two of Laphroig after dinner. I don't drink at home as a rule, but somehow campfires, clean forest air and a fine, single-malt Islay were made for each other. Obviously Cedar was of the same mind because before long a flask of Lagavulin made an appearance. He more than deemed himself for the morning’s black mark. Jayson also pulled out a flask of "The Kracken", a powerful but delicious Caribbean spiced rum.

Jiblets spent quite a bit of time throughout the day reprofiling a scotch-eyed hand auger with a tiny set of files. Once he was satisfied with the results, he tried out his handiwork on making a form of swedish stove that features a single shaft drilled down the centre of a log and another shaft drilled perpendicular to that, intersecting the main shaft far below. The idea is to light a small fire in the main shaft and, fed oxygen by the second shaft, the log is gradually consumed in a self-sustaining fire. Unfortunately the test log Jiblets used was still wet, so our attepts at making a fire we not very successful. Great idea though and one I'd like to see done with good materials.

Ryvr pointed out the coming sunset so Brantwing, Ryvr and I picked our way to the westernmost part of our campsite and watched from shore to watch the sun go down. That evening's sunset was subdued but still lovely, almost as if the sky itself was trying hard to not upstage the fall colours.

Back at the firepit most of the group took passed the time chatting about everything under the sun, including some very profound topics. For instance, it was agreed that the original Iron Man was best superhero flick ever.

The moon was almost full as it hung in the southern sky. Below it, tucked away in the silhouetted shoreline, a small campfire glowed and around it bobbed the little white dots of headlamps. It had been a long day and one by one people were heading back to their hammocks. Soon only a couple of us sat around the small fire. Finally, with only two hours of sleep in the last forty, a long drive and good morning of paddling, I was ready to call it a day.

One of the last chores to do each night is to hang the food bags. Off to on side of the site and close by the canoes was one of the largest trees I can remember seeing in the park. Earlier in the day several of us had tossed our ropes over the high branches and it wasn't long before at least three of four sets of bear bag ropes hung down like a giant marionette. Some used the PCT method, others, including myself, used the more conventional method; I even use a small pulley for the task. With the food bags all hung I said goodnight and headed back to my hammock.

Waking up around seven Saturday morning, I spent the better part of an hour snoozing and popping my head outside to take in the amazing view. I've always either been surrounded by tent walls or hanging tucked away in some forest hollow. The porch-mode was definitely the way to go. Eventually I started hearing voices over by the main camp, so I steeled myself and scrambled out to face a new day.

Breakfast for me was the opportunity to fire up my BushBuddy and boil up some water for coffee and the warm granola porridge I make by prepackaging one instant package of instant flavoured oatmeal with a good handful of granola. Once that was done we lit the main fire and roasted three pieces of extra thick cut double-smoked bacon over an open fire. Tuck them into a toasted Montreal-style everything bagel and you have my idea of the perfect camping breakfast. I was trying out the Starbucks instant VIA coffee for the first time and was very pleasantly suprised, although I was a little envious of both Jayson's portable Turkish coffee maker and Mongrel's mini expresso maker.

It wasn't before long the first few splatters of drizzle began to fall and the gang moved to rig a couple of tarps, one by the foodbag tree I mentioned earlier and another by the firepit. At times most of the group were huddling under one tarp or another and I had the pleasure of putting my campchair a little too close to a sag in the tarp where water was collecting. It would gradually fill and periodically it would just dump out. I never actually got hit, just a little splashed.

Unfortunately Ryvr had to leave us that morning, so after breakfast a number of us gathered round to see him off. I was actually quite impressed. His first foray into solo canoe tripping was only the day before, but he had taken to it like a pro. Ryvr had a few hours of paddling ahead of him, but I was sure he wouldn't have a problem. He'd also have gentle tailwind all the way home but the sky hinted at oncoming rain

All morning long I had looked over the lake and still saw a number of canoes slowly out fishing. I was definitely getting the itch to get out and do some fishing. Sitting under the tarp I replaced the batteries in my fishfinder, rigged my spinning rod for trolling a floating gold/black Rapala behind a Pink Lady downrigger and then tied a pink "Vegas Showgirl" to the tippet of my fly line. Over the last few years I've been in fairly regular correspondence with one of Algonquin's lead fisheries biologists and a couple of years ago we exchanged flies, and these were some of his favorites.

Once a break in the rain came, I threw on my rain gear and pushed off. I paddled east just past the drop-off and after false casted the Vegas Showgirl I began playing out line. With the ultra fast sinking line was using, I expected my fly to get down to between 20 and 30 feet. It appeared that most of the lakers were down 70 feet hugging the bottom. After trolling the fly for thirty minutes over deep water, I switched over to my spinning rod and lowered the Pink Lady and Rapala rig into the depths. My rod took up a deep bend as the Pink Lady planed down 40 feet or more into the water, but with the exception of one missed strike, the fish just didn't seem interested.

I'd occassionally pass by one of the other canoes and no one was having any luck. The morning before, while we were waiting in Tim Hortons for the group to meet up, a local mentioned that the fishing on Little Trout had been slow this year. Apparently it had seen a lot of pressure as people skipping over the much larger and more popular Ralph Bice in favour of the slightly more remote Little Trout. That didn't bother me too much. I go fishing more for the pleasure of paddling and taking in the sights than I do to catch dinner. That's not to say a nice trout wouldn't make a great addition to the pot, but it wasn't that big a deal. I did see Scarf-gal and her friend paddling around the lake and we chatted for a bit. It looked like they were having a lot of fun just being in the piney woods.

By the time I got back to camp it was getting close to lunch. I took a piece of the leftover bread from the night before, broke out my little ration of Spicy Hungarian sausage, a small wedge of both parmesan and extra old cheddar and washed it all down with a nice hot cup of coffee.

Most of Saturday afteroon was spent just making the rounds and trying to get to know people. Cedar was an interesting character, a solid Scot who worked as a paramedic and moonlighted as a whitewater and wilderness paddler, although I might have gotten that backwards.

By mid-afternoon the drizzle showed no signs of letting up. We'd have to start preparing dinner soon but first the shelter around the fire pit had to be reworked. After trying to jury-rig Hankster's large parawing tarp, but with only limited success, I figured the best approach would be to just take down the tarps and start again, only this time planning to pitch them together making one large shelter. With a quick group effort we had the two tarps tautly pitched, raised on 7 foot poles. The rain was running off of the tight fabric and the tall poles gave plenty of headroom.

A great kid, that Kasuko. His mannerisms never ceases to make me laugh. If he's not storing his bacon under his hammock, he's losing eyebrows to an exploding DIY alcohol stove or dunking a canoe. With everything that’s happened to him, it’s a wonder that he keeps on coming back… But he does, and that great! On this particular occasion, while the group sat facing the fire, Kasuko had settled down behind us by his new Whisperlite stove. Everything was going well and then suddenly there was a splash. As everyone started to turn around he shouted "DON'T LOOK!!!" and quickly huddled shamefully over his stove obviously trying to hide whatever he had done this time. He finally admitted, rather sheepishly, that his headlamp had fallen into his pot. I tell you, a couple of more dumb stunts like that and he'll earn his eagle scout canoe trippers badge!

Dinner Saturday night was to be New England Clam Chowder. Everybody seemed to lend a hand in the meal prep. Dant8ro had potato peeling duty. I diced another large piece of double-smoked bacon (DSB for the hardcore), onions and carrots and gave then turned it all over to Kasuko to sautuee. Which he did nervously. Once they had sweated down they were added the pot, already half filled with water and diced potatoes. Two Knorr cream of potato soup packages were poured in along with a generous helping of powdered milk. The only thing left was the rue. Jiblets slowly and carefully cooked the flour and butter, gradually adding soup until the mixture was prefect. With a quick pour into the main pot, a few stirs and we were ready for our first customer. Cedar, who had requested a plain potato soup and as soon as he had his bowl, we added a few containers of baby clams and crab meat, stirring all the while to avoid burning the rapidly thickening soup on the bottom of the thin steel pot. What resulted was a truely fantastic clam chowder, better than anything I had tasted before.

Soon people all around were grunting their satisfaction and reaching for seconds, even thirds. Occassionally your spoon would come up with a nice big chunk of bacon and that was heaven. Someone even pulled out a silicon spatula and started scraping the sides of the empty pot to get every last scrap and morsel. It was a soup to remember.

To top it off Hankster set two smoked pork chops to grill, something I’d never heard of before. When they were ready he offered them to the group and everyone grabbed a slice. It tasted like a cross between a porkchop and a cooked ham, without all of the salt. They were delicious. A definite addition to my future camp menus!! I also threw the last of my double smoked bacon on the grill. I wanted to have another bacon sandwich in the morning but knew that there wouldn’t be time for a fire.

If delicious soup and chops weren’t enough, Jiblets had taken the planning post mentioning banana bread as a challenge. Soon he was hard at work making the batter and filling the donut-shaped jello mold he was using as a baking dish. Dant8ro, who had diligently kept the fire at just the right intensity for to keep the soup from burning, now stoked up the flames a bit and got Jiblets dessert baking.

Checking occassionally with a toothpick sized stick, Jiblets finally announced that the banana bread was done. Loosening it in its mold, he carefully shaked it out onto a serving plate and then sliced it into about twenty pieces. The reviews were coming in fast and they were all good. This was going down in the books as a dinner to remember.

I had taken two pieces of banana bread for myself and placed them on my inverted coffee cup lid. Then I got up for a moment to grab my coffee and then came back. It had gotten dark outside by now and when I looked down I saw that my dessert was missing. I growled in a low and deadly serious voice "Where's my banana bread?" Apparently Jiblets thought it was very dangerous tone. What can I say, I've got kids. I hadn't had a bite yet and woe to he that comes between my banana bread and me. Luckily I found it nearby and no harm was done.

By ten o'clock people were beginning to call it a night because we were going to try to be on the water somewhere after 10 am. A few of us stayed up for a couple of hours longer, but eventually the fire was put out, the food was hung and everyone was tucked away in their hammocks.

Despite all of the good times we were having, one of our group was suffering from some serious leg pain that had gradually worsened over the course of the day to the point that he was limping around the site. The first pain medication he had taken had not solved the problem. Eventually he tried a different, somewhat stronger medication and it wasn't long after that he his stomach rebelled and he become violently ill. Of course we were all very concerned for him but there was not much we could do, despite the fact that we had an experienced nurse (emergency and operations) and a paramedic in the group. At one point, he was looking pretty rough and I asked him how he was feeling.

“Ok” he stammered.
“Dude,” I replied, “On the continuum of Ok, you are NOT ok.”

When his stomach finally settled down a few hours later, he manage to crawl into his hammock, although long into the night we could hear, now and again, the sound of retching coming from the woods. The sound echoed around the lake like a chorus forty pound bullfrogs choking on twenty pound horseflies. Not the best way to spend a night I the bush, but what can you do? Fortunately by morning his nausea had subsided and he was ready and rearing to go.

Waking up before dawn, I poked my head out of the hammock again and saw that the entire lake was bound in a heavy fog. I could only just make out the trees on the nearby island and the far shore was just a slightly darker band in the field of grey. I struggled with getting motivated to go do some early morning fishing. Jiblets had mentioned he had been out early the previous morning and that the had seen trout rising just off shore. I asked myself "Do I really want to get out of this comfy hammock and go fishing?", No sooner had I said that than a trout rose and slurped something off the surface. Sometimes the signs in life are subtle and easy to miss. Sometime, like this time, they're as obvious as a kick in the pants. With a heave, I swung my legs out, slipped on my hiking shorts and sandals and ambled down to shore.

It was close to 7 am and not too many guys were up yet. I’d go and try to get a hour of fishing before coming back in to eat breakfast and start packing. The lake was still quite foggy, but there was no rain and the shadows of the distant shorelines were gradually resolving themselves into forest. Patches of mist slowly rolled west across still waters, occasionally rising up with a twist like a waterspout of smoke. If this held up, we’d have a tailwind blowing us all the way back to the cars. Looking back our camp had become shrouded in fog, only the large rock stood out. I trolled a while longer, but saw no more rises for the morning. On the way back, Brantwing set up his camera and took a couple of shots of me paddling around before I headed back in.

Back on shore more people had woken up and were around the camp. After another bowl of warm granola and coffee and I was ready to break down my hammock setup. Twenty minutes later, my loaded pack was standing by the equipment tarp. Chenvre wins the award for latest sleeper because it was after 9 am when I had to go over and shake his hammock to get him up. It sounded like he was half awake already and just enjoying those last few minutes of warmth.

Hammocks and tarps came down quickly, gear was sorted and packed away and around eleven am we were ready to push off. The paddle home was fairly uneventful. On Ralph Bice the weather started to turn a bit nasty as a heavy mist rolled in from the north.

I have to admit, Mongrel is quite a seasoned tripper. His solo canoe is outfitted with a rudder that he controls with foot pedals, making the canoe to track a little straighter and giving him the opportunity to put more power and less steering into each paddle stroke. But it’s his portaging style I really admire. Mongrel will just paddle to the shallows by shore and just step out into the water. While still standing there he’d very quickly reach down and put on a shoulder-bag and then his main pack. Then he’d flip the canoe up onto his shoulders and off he’d go. I imagine that when he’s in form, he loses no more than half a minute at each end of the trail. He literally transitions from water to land in one fluid movement. It takes careful packing and the right footwear, but it’s an excellent approach to canoe tripping. The only downside might be having wet feet but wearing a good pair of water sandals is the answer to that.

Bubba and I were paddling anchor again. Mongrel was a hundred yards ahead of us and far beyond him, disappearing into the mist, paddled Hankster and Jiblets. Near the far end of Ralph Bice the waves, having traveled the full length of the lake, had begun to get a little bigger. Not much of a problem, but my Prospector is a little temperamental went paddled tandem. One early spring morning years ago I paddled the same route with a friend. Once again the lake was mist covered, but on that occasion it was just below freezing, there was almost no wind and the surface of the lake was a matte grey. The shafts of our paddles between our hands were coated with ice and I had to borrow one of his wool gloves to keep my grip hand warm. With our two rods pointing out on either side, it felt like we were on a north Atlantic trawler. Very cool.

Once we reached land, I slowly climbed out of the canoe; the long paddle had started to take its toll on my knee. Luckily the portage into Hambone wasn’t an issue and at the end of the trail we met two gentlemen out for a weekend of mushroom hunting. The younger of the two was a chap by the name of Steve who ran Pow-Wow Wilderness Trips out of Toronto. We chatted for a bit and he showed quite an interest when we mentioned that we had all been hammocking.

Paddling out into Hambone I saw a solo paddler head off to the south, towards the Daisy Lake portage. I was afraid that Mongrel had taken a wrong turn, but when we shouted and got no response, we just continued on our way. The Hambone-Magnetewan portage was short and as Bubba carried his gear ahead, I waited for a few minutes to see if that solo paddler was Mongrel. Seeing no one, I shouldered my pack, grabbed my canoe and headed down the trail after Bubba.

The paddle across Magnetewan lake is always a little weird, with the carpark so close to the portage. I knew to stay to the right and look for the dock, but up ahead, out near the main lake, I could see Mongrel, sitting in his canoe, not moving. Although quite a way away, he held up his paddle and turned it so that the light flashed off the wet blade. I assumed he was signaling us so I did the same. Bubba and I then turned and headed for the docks just ahead.

When we pulled up to the shore we found everyone milling about the carpark or down by the docks. Everyone, that is, except Mongrel, Hankster and Jiblets. We guessed that they had overshot the take-out, paddled into the main lake and obviously Mongrel had gone after them.

I threw on my backpack and then grabbed Bubba’s across my chest. I staggered into the carpark pretending to complain of how much of a slave driver Bubba was, but no one believed me for a second. As I was walking back down to the docks, three tourists joined me, two gentlemen and a very lovely young lady. At this time of year it’s not unusual to see tourists snapping pictures of Algonquin's beautiful fall colours, but I was quite surprised to see that they had driven all the way to this fairly remote access point back into the bush. We talked a little as Mongrel paddled in and they told me that although they lived in Hamilton, they were all originally from Iran. After chatting for a while I reached down, grabbed my canoe, flipped it up onto my shoulders and made the last carry of the day.
Everyone was throwing on clean clothes or packing gear away into their cars. After a long weekend of paddling and portaging I felt I really needed a swim so I grabbed the little clothes bag I had packed just for this purpose in the morning and headed back down to shore. The two mushroom hunters had pulled up and we talked a little more about hammocking. But the water was waiting. I stripped to my underwear and walked in. Although the water was cold, it wasn’t too bad and it felt great to wash off a weekend’s worth of grime. After drying off and changing clothes I felt great.

Hankster and Jiblets finally pulled in. As we had guessed, they had overshot the docks and paddled around Magnetewan Lake for a while. Once they were ashore, our gear stowed in the cars and canoes lashed on the roofs we pulled out and left Algonquin behind.

Our final stop would be the Harveys restaurant just across the parking lot from the Tim Hortons where we had met only two days before. Stopping for a final meal together is a nice way to end a hang and we laughed as we swapped stories about the weekend. There’s no doubt that chowder and banana bread under tarps and grey skies was one of the highlights of the trip.

With another fantastic hang in the books, the time came to part ways. It didn't matter if I knew some guys for a couple of years or just a couple of days, I was glad to have had a chance to paddle with friends. Best of all, it sounded like everyone was looking forward to our next hang.

Finally, this trip report, of course, was really only based on my view of the trip. Around the site eleven other guys were doing their thing. There were laughs aplenty so I’m sure that there are a hundred other stories I never knew about. That’s cool… That’s the way it should be…

Back Row Left to Right: Cedar, Chenvre, Hankster, Kasuko, Jayson, Jiblets, Mongrel, Bubba
Front Row Left to Right: Dant8ro, Brantwing, Chard
Missing: Ryvr

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